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Bobby V: Managing by Mind Games

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What are the inexorable rights of a New Englander? Since the turn of the century, meaning the 21st century, the seemingly God-given rights include all of the following activities:
  • The right to bear arms
  • The right to bitch about the weather changing by the minute
  • The right to imbibe Dunkin' Donuts coffee every 30 minutes
  • The right to botch-up a Senatorial election to replace the late Ted Kennedy
  • The right to great, make that Championship-level sports teams -- including the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox; the 2001, 2003 and 2004 New England Patriots, the 2008 Boston Celtics and, even, the 2011 Boston Cannons of lacrosse. Boston has had its share of winners since father time partied 1999 away with Prince and shuttled in the year 2000.

Despite all of that winning, if there is one sure-fire right of a Bostonian, it is the right to second-guess. And, second-guess they do. They quibble with the coaches, the managers, the players, the politicians, the dogs, the cats. Hell, they even second guess New England Patriots QB Tom Brady, and he might be one of the greatest New England players of all-time, along with Bill Russell, Ted Williams, Bobby Orr and Larry Bird.

If there were to be a second-guesser's Hall of Fame, it would be situated somewhere near Fenway Park, maybe at the corner of Lansdowne Street and Yawkey Way. The halls would be extra wide, so as to allow the patrons to walk three or six abreast. If they were to build it, people would come.

They would come to reminisce about their favorite second guessing moments involving Grady Little. Back on October 16, 2003, the Red Sox manager decided to leave his ace, Pedro Martinez, on the hill against the New York Yankees. The Sox had a 5-2 lead in the eighth, but ole Pedro tired and let up three runs before Yankees' journeyman Aaron Boone belted a Home Run off Tim Wakefield in the 11th. The rest was history.

The faithful will second guess the great Bill Belichick, too. The same man that's presided over three Super Bowl championships and a pair of AFC title that cowboy-up with two stunning Super Bowl losses was second-guessed beyond your wildest dreams for a fourth down and two call against the hated Indianapolis Colts. The play failed, the Patriots lost 35-34 in a mid-November game and you'd thought the sky fell when the team returned from Naptown to Patriot Place.

The second-guessing works in politics, too. Democratic Senatorial hopeful Martha Coakley started to do the backstroke after gaining her party's nomination in a special election to replace the late Ted Kennedy, only to have Republican Scott Brown, he of barn jackets and GMC trucks, walk-away with the 2010 Commonwealth of Massachusetts Senatorial election. In doing so, it upended the life's work by his Senatorial predecessor in regard to universal healthcare and it ignited a flurry of second-guessing that hasn't been seen nor heard since Michael Dukakis ran into a juggernaut named Ronald Reagan in 1988. But, we digress and prefer to stick with sports.

On the parquet and the ice at TD Garden, Celtics coach Doc Rivers and the Bruins main-man, Claude Julien, do not escape the seasonal sport of second-guessing to the ummph degree, however, in the sports of basketball and hockey, New Englanders seem to like to blame the players and the GMs rather than the coaches. So, in NBA lore the second-guessers mock Boston GM Danny Ainge for shipping center Kendrick Perkins outbound while Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli is being whipped like a rare persian rug on a dusty day in Baghdad for his stand-still approach with the 2011 Stanley Cup champions who were ousted by the Washington Capitals in the first-round of the 2012 Cup playoffs, amidst mockery of an inefficient offense.

Now and then, New Englanders like to second-guess other coaches, too. Case in point this week, one former Celtics assistant coach, Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls who decided to run 2011 MVP guard Derrick Rose with the Bulls while the team was trouncing the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of their first round NBA playoff series. Rose took a clumsy two-step and crushed his ACL, ending his season and, possibly the longterm playoff hopes of a (still) deep Chicago Bulls basketball team. Boston sports talk-show radio lit up with disdain directed at Rivers' former aide and defensive wizard. Second-guessing has no boundaries.

And, that brings us to the 2012 Boston Red Sox. After a rough start at the Detroit Tigers (0-3), at the Toronto Blue Jays (1-2), then a slight reprieve by winning three of four at home against the highly rated Tampa Bay Rays, the Sox and Manager Bobby Valentine caught the wrath of the Kenmore Square faithful when the Sox dropped two-straight to both the Texas Rangers and the New York Yankees before a rain-out saved the day on April 22.

Right smack in the middle of the near nuclear fall-out was a Patriot's Day/Boston Marathon Day lyric-reading of John Lennon's "Mind Games," as Valentine questioned the emotional status of veteran third-baseman Kevin Youkilis and the Sox clubhouse came to "Youk's" emotional rescue when veteran second baseman and annual MVP candidate Dustin Pedroia chastised his new boss, stating, "that's not the way we go about our stuff here. I'm sure he'll (Valentine) will figure it out soon."

Alas, since the marathon day Dustin dust-up, the Boston Red Sox have won seven of eight, including tonight's 11-6 cropping of the Oakland A's. Boston scored 11 runs over the course of the 2nd through 5th innings and held on after starting pitcher Clay Buchholz melted down to allow five runs in the top of the seventh, but still managing to gain his third win in four early season outings for the 11-11 Bostonians, as of Monday night.

Valentine has his team playing .500 ball and with the American League schedule coming in like a soft summer breeze on the Cape, the Sox might remain well over the .500 mark through the Ides of May after a few more A's games, then series against Baltimore, Kansas City, Cleveland and Seattle with only a three-game stretch in KC away from the comfy confines of Fenway.

Taking the second-guessing game aside, is it possible that Bobby Valentine's intuition as a manager called for him to speak his peace against Youkilis to see if he could light the fire of camaraderie under the fannies of Youk's teammates? Is it at all possible that Valentine wanted to perform a Kentucky Fried (or Popeye's) seance against the locker air that still stunk of September past? Was it a challenge? Was it managing by Mind Games?

We'll just have to listen, wait and see.

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